After almost two years of community effort, the Egmont and District Volunteer Fire Department is becoming a reality. The aim is to have a functioning fire department in the spring of 2006.
According to John Rees, regional director for Area A, the necessary 50 per cent of property owners have signed petitions approving taxation for the new fire department.
Rees said Egmont residents will "feel much more comfortable with having a fire department," especially in summer when they are surrounded by dry forest. The higher taxes needed to provide fire protection would largely be offset by lower insurance premiums, said Rees.
As well, he added, "There's a certain amount of social pride in having a fire department in your community."
The petition process for approving the fire taxes was a very difficult one, said Rees. About 100 homes in the Egmont area received their petitions by hand delivery, and another 220 non-resident property owners got theirs by mail.
As of Jan. 10, Rees said, the "yes" petitions amounted to 52 per cent of the population and 59 per cent of the land value in the region to be served, which includes Egmont, Earls Cove, Ruby Lake and the top end of Sakinaw Lake. More petitions are still coming in, said Rees, so those numbers are likely to be higher when the official results are compiled.
"We hope to have a very substantial mandate," said Rees. "The rest of the work is fundraising, building, planning and training. Hopefully by spring 2006, we'll have that."
The petition authorizes taxing up to 90 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, but Rees expects taxes will be lower than that maximum, around 77 cents per $1,000. The annual budget for the fire department will be about $50,000, said Rees, much less than other fire departments on the Sunshine Coast. He is hoping much of the estimated $150,000 cost of building the new firehall will be donated.
"That would give us basic shelter for the equipment and the folks," said Rees.
Already Dean and Sandra Bosch have donated land on Egmont Road where the firehall will be built. An engineer and architect have donated their expertise to design the firehall.
Peter Sly, a retired firefighter, has been providing leadership and technical knowledge during the formation of the new fire department.
"He has incredible credentials. He's even taught firefighting and training programs," said Rees. "We have him on board until we hire a permanent fire chief."
Sly, who retired to Egmont in 1998 after a 30-year career in firefighting and fire prevention, said the next steps will be to acquire fire apparatus, build a hall, set up a communications system and train the firefighters.
Egmont's terrain creates problems with radio coverage that will need to be solved, said Sly, but "the big time factor is going to be training the firefighters."
The Pender Harbour fire department will help with the training, which Sly estimates will take one year. Once the firefighters are qualified, they will choose their own fire chief.
Sly said the new fire department is something Egmont needs.
"We're rather isolated and about an hour from the ambulance service in Pender Harbour," said Sly. "It'll be good to have something on the ground that will provide for services in Egmont."
Rees said the new fire department is seeking corporate donations and grants from all possible sources. In particular, he said, "We're going to put a proposal to the B.C. Ferry Corporation for some annual donation We would like to tap into their resources and provide a service they've never had before."
Since B.C. Ferries is no longer a Crown corporation, Rees said, the company pays property taxes on its Langdale ferry terminal. But because the Earls Cove ferry terminal is on the highway right-of-way, it is not taxed. That means the ferry terminal officially would not be covered by the new fire department. However, Rees said, if there were a fire at the Earls Cove terminal, "I don't think for one minute the fire department wouldn't respond."
He thinks it would be fair for the ferry corporation to pay a modest annual fee for fire protection.